Noa Baum remembers when she realized that Israelis and Palestinians could get along. It was in 1993 after she had come to the United States from Israel. She met a Palestinian woman who had grown up less than five miles from her in Jerusalem. Baum decided to befriend the woman.
“I had to make a choice,” she said. “Do I stay safe in my shelter of us versus them, or do I stay present to this individual human story?”
Baum, an author and educator who lives in Washington, spoke at an Israeli-Palestinian Memorial ceremony honoring those from both sides who have died in the conflict. The April 17 event at Sixth & I Historic Synagogue in Washington was organized by the peace groups New Israel Fund and Combatants for Peace.
Baum told the audience of about 100 that as she got to know her Palestinian friend, the two argued over facts surrounding the conflict, but most of their conversations were filled with empathy.
“She told me that when she was 10, she saw a 14-year-old boy being beaten by soldiers, and that was the first time in her life she understood the meaning of the word hate,” Baum said. “I felt like someone kicked me in the gut, because those soldiers from her childhood were my heroes.”
The ceremony coincided with Israel’s Memorial Day, or Yom Hazikaron. Rabbi Shira Stutman of Sixth & I lit a candle in memory of the conflict’s victims, and said it is important to pause for 24 hours on the holiday simply to reflect on the lives lost.
“Forgive me if your emotions do not match mine, but today, tonight and tomorrow I just feel sad,” she said.
Bethesda resident Monica Arkin said she has attended the ceremony for the last three years, including her first time when she was in Tel Aviv. She remembered feeling inspired while among the thousands praying for a peaceful future for Israelis and Palestinians.
“I didn’t grow up with [the conflict], and watching it from the outside, it seems like it never ends,” she said.
At the ceremony, a video was shown of Israeli writer and peace activist David Grossman giving an emotional speech to 7,000 Israelis and Palestinians in Tel Aviv, in which he recalled losing his son Uri during Israel’s 2006 war with Lebanon.
Washington resident Marjorie Greenberg said that like Grossman, she believes only a two-state solution will bring about an end to the conflict.
“I feel that as Grossman said, Israel is worth fighting for, but so are the principals of justice, human rights and equality for all people,” she said.